Czech move to bolster foster care system, phase out orphanages falls short, advocates say

Illustrative photo: Pavla Kopřivová / Czech Radio

The Czech Republic is the last country in the European Union where children under the age of three are placed in institutional care rather than with foster parents. Over 1200 children a year, a quarter of them toddlers, are committed to orphanages each year. According to children’s rights advocates, new legislation aimed at placing children with foster families will fail to bring about real change.

Even a short stay in an institution can permanently damage a child’s development – their basic emotional and psychological well-being and cognitive capability. Apart from that, studies show that institutional care is far more expensive, both in the short- and long-term, than supporting children in either their biological, foster or adoptive families.

The initiative Dobrý start (Good Start) is among the Czech advocacy groups concerned that a proposed amendment to the Act on the Social and Legal Protection of Children will fail to bring about the main goal – to bolster the foster care system and quickly phase out the institutionalization of children.

Klára Laurenčíková,  photo: Petr Vilgus,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Klára Laurenčíková is chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the Government Council for Human Rights and a co-founder of the Dobrý start initiative.

“Dobrý start and the Committee on the Rights of the Child stress that, to begin with, banning the institutionalisation of infants and toddlers must be extended to include all children. This means those who have been placed in institutions due to societal circumstances and those who have severe handicaps.”

In November, the Council of Europe found the Czech Republic responsible for the large-scale and discriminatory institutionalisation of children with disabilities and of Romani children under the age of three in early childhood care institutions. That contravenes the obligation to ensure appropriate social and economic protection to children under Article 17 of the 1961 Charter, ideally in family- and community-based settings.

At the same time, according to Dobrý start, the government is not proposing to allocate sufficient funds for foster families. Most foster parents do not even receive the equivalent of the minimum wage. And according to the government’s current proposal, financial remuneration will not increase enough to even offset inflation.

Illustrative photo: marcinjozwiak,  Pixabay

Gabriela Pošmourná, who over the years has cared for infants, toddlers and now for a six-year-old girl, says money has never been an incentive for becoming a foster parent. But it is often the reason why people stop fostering children.

“It is all done with love. You cannot compare a foster home to an institution, where the ‘aunties’ look after many children and work in shifts. When one goes home, another takes over. I’m there 24 hours a day. Many, many foster parents quit because they cannot live on the equivalent of 12 crowns an hour. And it’s a real pity – because the children need us, they need our care.”

The Czech state currently spends some 2.7 billion crowns annually to operation of early care institutions and orphanages. Dobrý start estimates that taxpayers would save as much as 133,000 crowns a year for each child raised in long-term foster care instead of an orphanage, and 463,000 crowns a year for every infant now in an institution.